Adaptive Gardening: Enjoying Your Garden for a Lifetime

There's at least one thing all home and property owners have in common. None of us are getting any younger. In fact, a 1/3rd of gardeners we interviewed for a study revealed they have some physical ailment preventing them from gardening. Recently, I had the privilege of discussing how gardeners can still go about enjoying their garden at any age, in a GILN podcast interview with Toni Gattone, author of The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease and Joy At Any Age. She explained how to approach working outdoors as you age, adapting the layout of your garden to suit your lifestyle, using tools that can help get the job done, and provided some excellent tips and how-tos to enjoy your space as you age. If you ever get tired or sore from working outdoors, keep reading and get more by listening to this great episode.

Your Mind and Body

If life has taught me anything, it's that I cannot do the same things I did when I was younger. While I still enjoy working outdoors, it takes longer to recover in between. A sore back from bending. Removing tree branches. Weeding and raking up leaves. Pruning back roses. It all needs to be done, but with each passing season, it gets a little harder to do. In her interview, Toni stressed it's important to recognize you can't do it all, but having a great positive attitude goes a long way. Gardening itself helps reduce stress and anxiety. It's also important to stay connected and engage with others in person. While social media has its benefits, it has actually made us feel more disconnected than ever before. To help stay socially active, she suggests joining a garden club, getting a plot at a community garden, or becoming a master gardener. And just as important as having a sound mind, it's equally important to keep moving. Gardening activities help us bend and stretch our range of motion.

Warm it Up and Switch it Up

Like any physical activity, it's important to do some warm-up exercises before you get started. Everything from stretching to dancing to your favorite rock and roll music. This is a step I tend to forget before gardening. The idea of jamming to my favorite playlist sounds like a great way to get the body moving. After warming up, Toni says it's important to switch it up and use different muscles. If you have raking to do, go for 20 minutes and switch to another gardening activity like pruning or weeding. The main thing is to avoid long periods of repetitive motion.


What is Adaptive Gardening

Adaptive gardening is a term that may sound confusing but it's really the ability to garden and taking into account one's physical capabilities. In Toni's book, she references tools to help get the job done, even if a person has sore knees, a bad back, limited dexterity or all the above. Her main point is that adaptive gardening means you don't have to throw in the "trowel" and give up working in the garden and landscape. One key point she makes in the interview is that regardless of your age and physical limitations, even a new gardener can apply some of these same principles that help with gardening as they age. Planning ahead in your garden design so you can manage and enjoy it for a lifetime makes good sense for new home buyers.


Adaptive Gardening Rules to Live By

Save time, money, energy and space, with the most important being saving your energy. Anticipate the tools you will need and save trips back and forth to the tool shed. One thing I would add is that after years of speaking to gardeners, I often hear even experienced gardeners using the wrong tool in an effort to save a trip back to the shed. In reality, using the wrong tool can exert more energy trying to get the job done. Save time and money planting perennials and flowering shrubs rather than annuals that must be replaced yearly. Putting the right plant in the right spot can also save time and money. Toni also recommends getting help when you need it by inviting others over that can get the project done. A nice lunch and garden party helps encourage family and friends to come over and help.

Coping with Adaptive Gardening

The first step in the process is accepting your physical limitations. This will help you reach a level where you can do the activities with ease and joy. That means finding easier ways to get things done. As Toni points out, done is better than perfect! Garden smarter, and you'll save time to enjoy it more. This will also help you to work quicker and more efficiently, with more comfort and safety. Combined, it gives you more time to enjoy your garden and landscape instead of always working in it.


Traits of an Accessible Garden Design

Those flagstone paths with emerald moss growing between the stones are very aesthetically pleasing; however, they can also present tripping hazards for the mature, unsteady gardener. She recommends replacing these kinds of paths with wide, even surfaces like interlocking pavers or concrete. Many gardeners grow in raised beds on top of the soil. She recommends raising the garden beds to be waist-high to prevent excessive bending. Another accessible option is growing vertically with a vertical planter. There are many options now that attach to a wall, and a growing tower or even containers that rest on an outdoor railing work well, too.


Tools for Adaptive Gardening

If you are going to work out in the garden and landscape, having the right tools is essential. Toni shared that the most important thing to keep in mind is comfort. When buying a tool like a hand pruner, go to the store and try it out to see which one feels best. Safety is another important consideration. Replace older rusty tools that don't work or won't close properly. You can also be creative or invent something that works for you. I especially like Toni's PVC pipe seed planting tool. It eliminates bending to plant seeds and places them right where they need to go! This is a great idea for planting for gardeners of all ages.

Corona FlexDIal bypass hand pruner

Inspiration to Get Out There at Any Age

It was quite an experience learning about adaptive gardening from Toni. She has an infectious enthusiasm about her, which comes across not only in this podcast but in her book as well. I received a copy ahead of the interview, and the well-thought-out concepts for enjoying your garden at any age make it one of the best garden books I've read. It focuses on ways to enjoy your garden without the basics of how to garden. There are stories of other gardeners throughout the book that are inspirational. It's great to know as we age, we're not alone! It's a fantastic read, and you can find it on Amazon or check out the other links in the podcast notes.


Image courtesy of Toni Gattone

The Lifelong Gardener

Whether you are an advanced gardener and homeowner or just beginning your gardening journey, Toni Gattone shares some great insights in her latest book, The Lifelong Gardener: Garden with Ease & Joy at Any Age. It's a great read that can change how you look at your landscape design.


About Corona:

Corona Tools was born in the orange groves of Southern California in 1928. Our roots began with an invention that revolutionized the citrus industry. Since then, we’ve been designing superior garden and landscape tools for hard working professionals and gardeners, who take pride in a job well done. For generations, our customers have relied on Corona’s strength and durability. For over 90 years, Corona has established itself as a leading professional tool brand, primarily within North America. Part of the global Venanpri Tools family of hand tool brands, our tools are carried in retail stores, local garden centers, and landscape, agriculture and arborist suppliers.  

About Venanpri Tools:

Venanpri Tools is a global collective of the finest hand tool brands for agriculturists, horticulturists, gardeners, landscape and construction professionals. The cumulative experience of the BellotaBurgon & Ball and Corona brands represents nearly 500 years of advancement in developing superior hand tools. With a global footprint spanning more than 125 countries across 6 continents, our brands have been the leading choice for generations of professionals who rely on quality and lasting performance.